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Attractiveness related to head and face length relative to height

People have been describing the ideal length of the head (top of head to bottom of chin) or face height (from hairline to bottom of chin) in relation to standing height since at least Classical Greece.  In the fifth century B.C., the Greek sculptor Polycleitus of Argos described some aesthetic proportions in The Canon of Polycleitus and illustrated it with a bronze statue of the Canon or Doryphorus (Spear bearer).  The Roman marble copy of Doryphorus is shown below.  The height of Doryphorus is 7.5 times the head length.

The Roman marble copy of Doryphorus (Spear bearer) by Polycleitus of Argos
The Roman marble copy of Doryphorus (Spear bearer) by Polycleitus of Argos.

In the late fourth century B.C., the sculptor Lysippos described the ideal head length as an eight of height, which is observed in the Roman marble version of Apollo Belvedere in the Vatican Museum.  

The first century B.C. Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio wrote in De Architectura that the ideal face length was a tenth of standing height, which corresponds to ideal head length being an eighth of height.

The Renaissance figure Leonardo da Vinci sketched Vitruvian man to show some ideal proportions.  He described the ideal head height as an eighth of standing height and the ideal face height as a tenth of standing height.  Another Renaissance figure, Albrecht Durer, described the ideal head length as an eighth of one’s height.

Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci Man of eight head lengths by Albrecht Durer
Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci (left) and Man of eight head lengths by Albrecht Durer.

Naini et al.(1, pdf) had men and women of different ethnic backgrounds judge the following series of images for the most attractive head length in relation to height.

Digitally edited head lengths imposed on Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci, and rated for attractiveness
Digitally edited head lengths imposed on Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci, and rated for attractiveness.

Naini et al. computed the average proportion of the images found most attractive and reported it as the height being 7.8 times the head length.  When forced to pick a single image, most selected the one with height 7.5 times the head length, followed by height 8 times the head length.  The preference regarding the most attractive image didn’t vary by sex or ethnicity.

The authors also cited averages among North American young adults of European ancestry: the average man had height 7.7 times head length and 9.4 times face length and average woman height 7.6 times head length and 9.4 times face length.(2)

The peak attractive range in the study was height between 7.5 to 8 times head length.  This should overwhelmingly overlap with the peak range for women, too (which we can assume to be roughly height 7.4 to 7.9 times head length).


  1. Naini FB, Cobourne MT, McDonald F, Donaldson AN. The influence of craniofacial to standing height proportion on perceived attractiveness. Int J Oral Maxillofac Surg. Oct 2008;37(10):877-885.
  2. Farkas LG. Anthropometry of the head and face. 2 ed. New York: Raven Press; 1994.


This is an interesting result, but one look at the images shows that the study is flawed. The only manipulation they made was to head height, not to head size. The heads of 1/6 - 1/7 proportions look stretched, and the heads of the 1/9+ figures look squished, so both look like freaks. Consequently, the varying aspect ratio of the head introduces a confound into this study. It should be re-run with heads of constant aspect ratio. I'm surprised that the researchers made such a big error and that it nobody at the journal thoughtfully inspected the images they used.

Whereas there is indeed a problem with the images, whether you alter head height only, head width only or the entire head so as to preserve its shape, you are going to end up with odd-looking head-body combinations at the extremes. If you go to the pdf of the article and reduce the size so that the images comprising the stimulus set are so small that you can hardly make out the facial features, you will note the images in the middle range (the range where most humans lie) look most attractive and the ones at the extremes look odd. So the authors don’t have a serious problem with their study. But the study can be improved by employing different face shapes.

An observation that I have seen made several times about very photogenic people. When seen in the flesh they have heads that look too big for their body. Marilyn Monroe is an obvious example.

Dont forget that not only would head width change proportionately as head length changes as HughRistik points out, but overall, bodily proportions should change as well.

For example, the statue of Doryphorus. Change his head length to overall body ratio and this can create an illusion of either being "lithe" or "stumpy".
What I mean is, let's say Doryphorus was 5'10". For the study , having a shorter head length would leave room for his other joints to be longer (creating a "lithe" look). For example, his legs would be longer as there is "more to go around". Vice versa, a longer head would take away length from the lower limbs and other parts, creating a "stumpy" look, etc. Don't forget that the images in the study look strange because rather than take this into account, they just made the head longer, making the person taller. So all of the images are of different heights, so not having a fixed height and properly changing proportions invalidates the whole study.

I think sexual dimorphism explains this much better. It's like a man and woman of the same height, where the female will appear "lithe" because of factors as shorter head length, longer limbs and her male counterpart vice versa. That then is the proper way to study a head length to height ratio.

It’s really interesting and quite funny at the same time, to see that we humans think the most attractive head length is 1/7.5 to an eighth of the height. It does look like the entire size of the head gets smaller; I didn’t notice that the head’s width stayed the same in every picture.

It`s actually enticing to read all these studies that transforms beauty in a theoretical set of standards. I can see it requires a lot of work and observation, not to mention know how from so many different fields. I must confess it seems a very interesting aspect, but I never pictured this way. I had never crossed my mind that I might make unconscious beauty judgments based on this head and face length - height proportion unwritten criteria. Unwritten for common people, not for specialists, apparently. For me, the attractiveness of a woman`s face relies on two main aspects: pleasant features and proper skin care. I tend to associate a lot a cute face with its skin having a healthy aspect.

I think that's about the dumbest logic I've read from the comments on this article.

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